MOFGA Certification Services (MCS) continued to see steady growth in 2017. We certified 49 new applicants, bringing our year-end total of MOFGA-certified operations to 536 and over 88,000 acres. This is an amazing achievement in a state our size, and much of the success of the organic sector in Maine depends on the continued support of our community. MCS works with MOFGA’s departments to further this success, including marketing and promotion efforts, training and programming needs, and participation in the many educational events.
We believe that one of the many advantages of certifying with MCS is the partnership with MOFGA in its pursuit of organic agricultural success. Every five years, MCS is fully audited by USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) and reaccredited to continue performing certification activities. This year marked our 15th year of accreditation. A team from USDA-NOP performed our audit, very similar to the verification process we conduct with our producers, and reaccreditation was granted. We are monitored continually by NOP for compliance and must adhere to many guidelines per the organic standards.While 2017 did provide many highlights and successes, there were also challenges.
Organic dairy producers were hit with several price caps and quotas, which may last well into 2019. With pricing controlled at the national level, local and regional wholesale operations are affected by incoming market pressures from large-scale dairies in the West and Midwest. This, combined with infrastructure challenges, is creating instability in the market. MOFGA and MCS continue to explore ways to support this important and crucial sector.
Additional challenges seen at the local and national level continued to question the integrity of organic. Exposed fraud and falsified imports topped the national organic headlines, while the presidential administrative changes at USDA are causing major delays in cost-share rebates coming back to organic producers. We are now hearing that the organic cost-share rebate, mostly funded through the Farm Bill, is under scrutiny in the next cycle. MOFGA-certified producers rely heavily on this rebate to defer some of the cost to certify. We are urging all of our certified producers who use this program to contact their legislators directly to keep it funded.
This year also marked the formalization of MOFGA’s clean cannabis certification program. After several years of development, final standards were approved and offered to cannabis growers in Maine wishing to market their growing practices as “clean” through third-party verification. Certified Clean Cannabis by MOFGA (MC3) offers a verified marketing claim of growing practices that mirrors the National Organic Program. This is MOFGA’s program, administered by MCS, and does not fall under our federal organic accreditation. As of year-end, we have certified 13 operations.
MOFGA’s agricultural services and MCS staff produced Organic Maine!, a yearly publication devoted to promoting all of MOFGA’s certified farmers, producers and farmers’ markets across the state. In 2018 we hope to expand its distribution reach. Another highlight is the newly developed Organic Farmer Toolkit at http://www.mofga.org/AgriculturalServices/OrganicFarmerToolkit/tabid/3360/Default.aspx, which helps producers with appropriate scale for markets, pricing, and messaging and promotion. We are planning for more in 2018, including increasing social media presence and other comprehensive promotional programming. With the organic market becoming more and more competitive, MOFGA and MCS must continue to provide value to producers through partnership and shared vision.
There is no doubt that organic food production continues to expand and succeed. As more and more consumers and growers become familiar with the requirements and embrace the philosophy of organic agricultural production, we believe the industry will continue to expand. Our role is to maintain organic integrity and to continue to ensure trust in the label. We look forward to a successful 2018.
National Organic Program related news
- The Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP) Final Rule was published on January 20, 2017, but implementation was delayed by the new administration. The current status of the rule implementation remains uncertain, despite calls from MOFGA and others to implement without delay.
- Miles McEvoy, longtime deputy administrator of the USDA National Organic Program, resigned in September. McEvoy was replaced by acting deputy administrator Ruihong Guo.
In October, the National Organic Standards Board voted on a proposal that would disallow hydroponic production as certified organic under NOP. The proposal was voted down 8-7, meaning that the regulation maintains a status quo situation, with some certifiers allowing this production method. MOFGA Certification Services does not certify hydroponic operations.